9 November 2016

Alice calls to spoil surprises only when they are bad ones, and so both of us have been walking around like zombies since the first polls closed nine hours ago and she was finally able to see the outcome. We sit holding each other in shock, somehow unable to tear our eyes from the television as state after state is called. New York, of course, we knew. Massachusetts. But then slowly we watch them turn. Ohio. Michigan. Wisconsin. Pennsylvania…

Our daughter took our warning but insisted she could handle it, and promised that she would act just as stunned as everyone else at the watch party she was going to. But it is impossible not to be shaken, and neither of us is surprised when just after one AM, our phones buzz with an app notification that she’s gotten in an Uber. Twenty-five minutes later, the tumbler in the front door lock turns and Rene stumbles in, her eyes red and swollen.

Dad…” she wails.

Edward and I are to her almost before she’s opened her mouth, our arms around her and around each other.

“Shhhhhhh,” we are both saying. “It will be okay, sweetheart. It will be okay.”

She pulls away from us and jabs an open hand at the television. “How can you say that. He is a monster.

That she says this while breaking the hold of two vampires is not lost on me.

Edward and I exchange looks. Do you want this one, or shall I?

He nods solemnly. “Renesmee,” he whispers. “Come. Sit with me.” The next thing I know, they are stretched out on the chaise portion of our leather sectional, and Edward has his whole forearm against hers as they talk.

All I think to myself as I watch them is that we have been naïve.

She had been only seventeen months old, and physically about four, when the three of us made the weeklong road trip from Wisconsin to Washington at the end of a frigid January. We bundled in unnecessary layers, with hats and gloves and thick scarves. We put Rene on our shoulders and she shrieked and yelled and waved her little U.S. flag. Three among millions on an overcast day on the National Mall cheering a day I hadn’t realized would come barely a century after the Civil War. Four years later, we would take the train from New York to hear him again, and when he called for the country to be guided by the principle that all of us are created equal, a chill shot down my spine when he added “Stonewall” to the places he pointed out that our forebears had trod in pursuit of equality.

Barack Obama has been president during our daughter’s entire lifetime. And long after the other side’s field narrowed to one, we kept jocularly debating the merits of Sanders versus Clinton, certain that it didn’t matter. There was simply no way that our country would allow the other man to win. It had seemed impossible, and yet here we were watching it play out in bright red on CNN.

I was looking forward to the end of the campaign. The vitriol that was being spewed about people who didn’t look the way others thought they should look, or love the way that others thought they should love, has been growing unbearable. Edward has taken to staying in the apartment most days, because even in our mostly ideologically homogeneous neighborhood, there are still too many thoughts he can’t bear to hear. And even with the protection of our gender and race, we have both unconsciously become more careful about where and when we join hands.

What if it doesn’t end?

“Oh my goodness not you, too,” Edward says, exasperated. “You. Here. Also.” I join them both on the couch. Rene does her level best not to touch me, but when she does I get glimpses of the wild directions her mind is racing. People jeering at us, at her. Calling us faggots. She’s even seemed to have temporarily forgotten our immortality and is imagining us being hurt…

“Do you remember what you said to me, Carlisle, the night Dr. King was assassinated?” Edward asks.

Of course I do, but it takes me a moment to find exactly the memory he means. But I do bring it to full recall after a minute. I had walked Edward through every conflict I had witnessed in my lifetime—how Cromwell’s rule ushered in the Second Civil War and the Irish Campaign. How the American Revolution laid the groundwork for the American Civil War. How Reconstruction lead to Jim Crow. How each time, it was as though the rubber band of progress snapped back, trying to hold its original shape. And as I remember telling Edward these things, I recall the line he wants me to repeat to his daughter:

“Hatred,” we say together, “always attempts to fill any voids left carelessly by hope.”

We have hoped and been careless. As the wheel seemed to turn inexorably toward these new things that mattered, we left behind a void. But, the rubber band always stays a little stretched, and I had explained this to Edward, too. And each time, it has a harder and harder time returning to it shape, until one day, it breaks.

“Yeah,” Rene says, when I explain this. “But rubber bands fucking hurt when they snap.”

We both wince at her choice of words.

“Right now, nothing has changed,” Edward says gently, stroking her arm. “Not yet. And we live in New York. I’m not saying things can’t go wrong”—he gestures helplessly to the TV, which we have muted—“but at least for now, it is okay here.”

“And if we have to hide, we hide,” I add. This is another thing she has not seen in her short lifetime. Her family has had their thirsts quite in check for decades. Rene has never been suddenly uprooted, a new identity thrust on her, a hop across the country or the globe in an attempt to be forgotten. “We have done it many times before.”

“We could go to Europe,” Edward says. “You’ve always wanted to live there.”

“Just to visit, Dad,” she says. “And I don’t want to leave you.”

“You won’t,” we both say forcefully. We share a knowing glance when we realize how alike we have responded. When Edward continues, it is more gently.

“You are going to have us forever, sweet,” he says, stroking her hair. “And…I’m sort of sorry about that.”

“Hashtag, sorry not sorry,” she says, and there’s the tiniest hint of a smile.

“Yes,” he says, nudging the side of her face with his nose. “Not that sorry.”

Emotional exhaustion is the only kind I can actually feel, and right now, I feel as though I could sleep for days. So when Rene doesn’t answer right away, I’m not surprised to see her eyelids are drooping. Edward isn’t finished suggesting that she spend the night before I have put fresh sheets on her bed. She points out that she has a nine AM class, and he reminds her that we, who do not sleep, are excellent alarm clocks.

“I suppose I should be grateful you haven’t turned my bedroom into a sewing studio or something,” she says, slowly lifting herself from the couch.

“Sweetheart, we’re not that gay,” Edward quips back.

An eye roll suffices for the fact that none of us is able to laugh just yet. Rene disappears, and a moment later returns in a t-shirt and pajama pants which she has stolen from Edward’s closet, smelling strongly of spearmint toothpaste. In public, she is too old to kiss us, but we are alone in the apartment, and so she pecks each of us on the lips.   

“Goodnight, Dad. Goodnight, Granddad.”
Our answer is in unison. “Goodnight, Rene. We love you.”

Her footsteps carry through the apartment, and we both listen, raptly, for twenty or so minutes until her breathing is even. On the couch, Edward leans into me and I wrap my arms around him. Our legs find each other’s and intertwine.

“It’s so easy to tell her that everything is going to be all right,” he mutters. “This is not the world I want for her.”

I shake my head. “Me, either.” So much seems to be at stake. Who our country will be against foreign powers. Whether others will fight wars against us. What the earth will be like for the humans who have to live on it. And this, too, seems to be at risk—the two of us, lying on the couch in a close embrace.

I hide so much of myself from the world. So much of me is unpalatable and horrifying, and can only exist clandestinely. Having this one secret on public display has felt freeing, and faced with the fear of losing it, I realize how fervently I don’t want to cram this part of me back into darkness.

Edward hears my thoughts and pulls me closer.

“Less than two years from now, we will have been together for a century, Carlisle,” he says. “That is downright monumental.”

I think on this. I’ve been aware of the date approaching, of course, but something feels especially reassuring about it now. It might be a long journey to keep Rene’s fears from coming to pass. But we’ve already been on a long journey. And we will continue on that journey together.

“Together,” Edward mutters. “That sounds like a good idea.”

I wrap my arms around him and pull his head to my chest. I bury my nose in Edward’s hair and inhale his scent, the spice that tells me that he’s mine. He has always been my everything—brother, son, husband, best friend.

The muted TV is still reporting results, the news anchors’ shocked faces moving their lips without sound. Our century-old grandfather clock, brought from Edward’s home in Chicago, ticks in the foyer. My chest rises and falls against Edward’s, and his rises and falls against mine as we curl against each other. In the distance, our daughter’s breathing echoes calm and deep, and it is nearly ten minutes before Edward’s voice breaches the silence:

“…should we maybe bite Justice Ginsburg, just in case?”

And suddenly, too early, still in the midst of worry and pain, we somehow find ourselves laughing.


Historical note: Donald J. Trump was elected 45th president of the United States on November 8, 2016. He subsequently placed two new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch to the seat left by the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the seat left by Anthony Kennedy’s 2018 retirement. Kennedy was the author of the majority opinions on, and widely considered the deciding vote for, both the Windsor and Obergefell decisions.

What will happen if a challenge to Obergefell reaches the current SCOTUS is unknown.


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